IZTUZU BEACH IN DALYAN IS THAT RARE THING IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: A 5KM ARC OF GOLDEN SAND STRETCHING FROM THE BASE OF A PINE-CLAD MOUNTAIN TO A RIVER DELTA, WITH NOT A SINGLE HOUSE, SHOP OR HOTEL IN SIGHT.
During the day people swim, walk, lie in the sun to the sound of the crumping waves but at night a barrier comes down and the beach is claimed back by nature, in particular by hundreds of loggerhead turtles, one of the oldest surviving species in the world, which lay their eggs there from May to September.
Iztuzu is the second most important site for endangered loggerheads in Turkey, and with its hinterland of briny lakes and reed-fringed river channels, arguably its most beautiful beach. But when I first visited it in 1990 I was chilled by the sight of a great slab of concrete – the foundations, I later discovered, of a government-approved1800-bed holiday village.
The story of how a handful of Turkish and European conservationists, galvanized by English ‘Turtle Lady’ June Haimoff, saved Iztuzu from development is remarkable.
For several summers Haimoff had lived in a wooden hut on the beach, alongside families from the town, and had watched the huge females digging their nests (even saving one from a knife-wielding local man who wanted its shell for a cradle) and had rescued hatchlings that were disorientated by the artificial lights and noise from the settlement. Eventually the huts were dismantled but, unknown to the conservationists, permission was given for the much more damaging holiday complex instead. When bulldozers arrived on the beach Haimoff sent a frantic telegram to the WWF. Prince Philip, as president of the WWF, asked the Turkish Prime Minister to delay the project, to allow an environmental impact study to be carried out.
This was done, the Prime Minister acted, and in the summer of 1988 the beach, along with the area’s red pine and sweet gum forests and marshlands, was given SPA (Special Environmental Protection Area) status and the building project cancelled.
News of Dalyan and its turtles spread fast and soon the town became a tourist hot spot. I myself have been back many times, usually in non-peak times, but until I was asked to assess it for an Open Spaces award I had no idea that the beach was so heavily visited – up to 5000 people in a single day in the high season. Many of these are day trippers who arrived on large boats, are transferred to river boats to visit the various sites around Dalyan, and finish off with a swim on Iztuzu. But despite this influx, the protection, which includes a demarcated nesting zone where digging, using umbrellas, or lying is forbidden and a 1-mile exclusion zone for speedboats and jet skis, is working: a 21-year monitoring programme of the turtles, currently being undertaken by a team from the University of Pamukkale, shows that the population is stable and that the number of nests is slightly increasing. The students locate the nests, put metal cages over them to prevent foxes or dogs digging them up, and are on hand when the hatchlings emerge.
The tourist facilities at either end of the beach are sympathetically designed to minimize environmental impact. The cafes, cabins, sunbeds (which are nearing their permitted maximum of 850) and boardwalks are made of wood, the roofs from reeds; brackish water is used for the showers, toilets and cafés, and the waste water is removed daily.
There are plenty of litter bins, with separate containers for recycling waste at the delta end; and the Belediye, (Municipality) which manages the facilities, uses the revenue from the sunbeds, beach entry fees and cafes to clean the shore daily, to provide jobs for local people and for services in the town.
The greenest way to reach the beach is by bike, and it’s an exhilarating climb through the resinous mountain road, with panoramic views of the beach and the lakes from a number of roadside pancake houses.
There’s a co-operatively run dolmus (minibus) service too, which takes the same route, and a fleet of co-op river taxis which travel at 5mph down through the reedbeds. This gentle pace is the official speed limit for the delta, but patrols are rare and conservationists are concerned that the reedbeds are degrading, especially at the mouth of the river, partly because of the wash from powerful, fast-moving boats.
On the beach, however, the 24-hour patrols by SPA officials ensure that the demands of mass tourism and of the Caretta caretta turtles, which have become Dalyan’s unofficial logo, remain in balance. ‘It’s not perfect’, says June Haimoff, who would like to see many more signs, fewer sunbeds and an environmental tax levied on day trippers, ‘but it is a magnificent beach and we are very lucky that we have protection for the turtles.’